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Intersex community angry at  'disorder' classification

Intersex community angry at 'disorder' classification

LAST UPDATED // Friday, 30 September 2011 23:16

Gender diverse activists have been left upset and angered by a decision by the World Professional Association of Transgender Health (WPATH) to include intersex as a mental health disorder in the latest version of its internationally accepted Standards of Care and Ethical Guidelines (SOC).

At its conference in Atlanta, USA on September 25, WPATH released the seventh edition of its SOC, which articulate a professional consensus about the psychiatric, psychological, medical, and surgical management of gender identity disorders.

The guidelines also aim to help professionals understand the parameters within which they may offer assistance to those with such conditions.

Having first been published in 1979, with previous revisions occurred in 1980, 1981, 1990, 1998 and 2001, WPATH claim its latest edition recognises much more explicitly “that gender nonconformity in and of itself is not a disorder”.

Christine Burns, SOC international advisory committee member, said the newly released guidelines will promote a much better outcome for transgender people.  

“The previous versions of the SOC were always perceived to be about the things that a trans person must do to satisfy clinicians, this version is much more clearly about every aspect of what clinicians ought to do in order to properly serve their clients.

“That is a truly radical reversal … one that serves both parties very well,” Burns said.

However, the guidelines have upset the intersex community in Australia as WPATH has decided to place intersex under the classification of ‘Disorders of Sex Development’.

Gina Wilson, president of Organisation Intersex International Australia (OII), said WPATH’s decision is “an act of breathtaking hypocrisy”, particularly as the intersex community was not consulted.

“WPATH would not formulate a Standards of Care for trans people without considerable trans inclusion and widespread trans consultation.

“That WPATH is prepared to do what they have done to intersex people shows the complete misunderstanding that trans professionals have in respect of intersex and their disregard for both our rights and for our wellbeing,” Wilson said.

WPATH is a international multidisciplinary professional organisation devoted to the understanding and treatment of gender identity disorders.

It was founded by the German-born American physician Harry Benjamin, who was one of the first physicians known to have worked with transgender people.


Comments (5)

  • Christine Burns

    01 October 2011 at 23:53 |
    Before we go any further, consider the context:

    The SOC don't say intersex people have a mental health condition.

    This is a text for gender specialists who, in the course of practice, may encounter people with an intersex history who VOLUNTARILY come to see them for help with transitioning in adulthood.

    Before this revision those clinicians had no guidance other than the one size fits all variety.

    Now those clinicians have a page or two in that guidance acknowledging that people with intersex histories are different. That may not be relevant to the majority of intersex people who never have need to go near a gender clinic, but it's potentially a worthwhile step for those who want clinicians to understand their needs better if they do

    I don't suggest they've done it well. As I say, I cautioned them about terminology and recommended they consult better; however first steps are often faltering.

    If you want to lobby WPATH to take the section out in the next revision, well fine. But do consider whether that serves the people it was intended to help.

    Perhaps a better move would be to open doors and minds. I've already suggested to WPATH's President Elect Lin Fraser that it would be a good idea to reach out to people now. I've given her a link to OII's blog about this issue. But if you want to open doors yourself then her email is [email protected] and she's on Twitter as @drlinsf


  • Tracie O'Keefe

    01 October 2011 at 21:55 |
    Gina & Christine:

    As a long term clinical member of WAPTH (and HBIGDA before), intersex, trans, sexologist and probably the most unfashionable proletariat member of WPATH I apologise on behalf of my colleagues.

    The idea that WPATH is a reformed organisation with the issuing of version 7 of SOC is hog wash. It is still the deeply prejudicial organisation as it always was only instead of making us all transsexual it now makes use all transgender, with intersex as the new whipping boy. As an American organisation it is driven by the desire to validate medical insurance claims.

    I have little doubt you did what you could Christine but this fight is about money and medicine. WPATH, which has transgender in its title so has no business commenting on intersex at all. Depathologising one group to then pathologise another is about those clinicians and academics involved hanging onto power.

    If you want to make change Gina then you might think of contributing to the submissions for the first Sex and Gender Diverse (SGD) Human Rights and Dignity Conference, 2nd. December, 2011, Sydney, where we will be talking about intersex rights. We would be happy to hear Oii's points of view via submission and on the day. All sex and/or gender diverse people are welcome.


    Tracie O'Keefe


  • Gina Wilson

    01 October 2011 at 11:21 |
    It is difficult to Lobby Christine when we are precluded from membership as Intersex, we are not included in discussions or consulted with , when we have no idea who the people who took it upon themselves to 'disorder" us .

    You see while Trans have easy access and inclusion we are not even a part of it. It is a Trans organisation and just so long as they are that they should keep their cotton picken nose out of our business.

    Maybe you could forward us the contact details , you see not only did we not know WPATH was contemplating "disordering" us we dont even know who is behind this or the contact details on who runs WPATH. Intersex is not an allowable reason to join. and why should we be forced to join a trans organisation to stop them pathologising us.

    Who gave a Trans organisation permission to decide how Intersex people should be classified and treated. It is simply reprehensible.

    maybe you would like to send us the contact details of the WPATH folk and the individuals behind this mes. See we really have no idea and especialy no idea you lot were contemplating telling us what to do with our lives.


  • Kim

    01 October 2011 at 03:15 |
    Not only intersex people are angry about the WPATH, transsexual people, too. WPATH-Thesis: “Gender dysphoria refers to discomfort or distress that is caused by a discrepancy between a person’s gender identity and that person’s sex assigned at birth” (SOC 7) ... the answer to that: “Fine. But why does WPATH call a transsexual girl a ‘boy’ and a a transsexual boy ‘girl’ when this causes ‘gender dysphoria’? We believe that there would be a simple solution to stop something like ‘gender dysphoria’. To accept sexual minorities. ‘gender dyphoria’ is the side-effect of a trans-, homo-, and interphobic society. And the WPATH is part of that transphobia. ‘gender dysphoria’ is an invention of sexologists who originally caused that distress.”

    It's very shameful that so many trans-People still believe in the sexologist-ideologies and can't accept that their knowledge about theirselves is true and not a part of "gender variance". "Gender" is a concept made from societies. "Gender" is the fake thing, sexual daviations not.


  • Christine Burns

    01 October 2011 at 01:10 |
    Please note that, as one of the external advisors consulted on late drafts of the guidelines, I did strongly recommend that WPATH should reconsider their use of the DSD terminology and consult with intersex groups about the whole thing. I gave the authors names of contacts in the UK intersex community. However, the intersex section only appeared at a very late stage. I commented as soon as the text was there to review. However, there was only a chance at feeding back on this.

    Note that WPATH intend to take input from all parties now that this 7th revision of the guidelines has been published. Their intention is to then publish either a version 7.1 or 8.0 in around a year's time, reflecting that further and wider input. I suggest you get lobbying.

    I'm sorry that I could not myself achieve more. Please don't tar all "trans professionals" indiscriminately though.


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